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Iraq's Alleged Al-Qaeda Ties Were Disputed Before War

Democrats and Republicans agree that analysts and politicians of all political stripes were wrong about the prewar assessments of Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. But the committee report indicates that intelligence analysts were substantially right about Hussein's lack of operational links to al-Qaeda. And Democrats compared the administration's public statements with newly declassified intelligence assessments to build their case that efforts to link Iraq to al-Qaeda were willfully misleading.

In a classified January 2003 report, for instance, the CIA concluded that Hussein "viewed Islamic extremists operating inside Iraq as a threat." But one day after that conclusion was published, Levin noted, Vice President Cheney said the Iraqi government "aids and protects terrorists, including members of al-Qaeda."

Intelligence reports in June, July and September 2002 all cast doubts on a reported meeting in Prague between Iraqi intelligence agents and Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta. Yet, in a Sept. 8, 2002, appearance on NBC's "Meet The Press," Cheney said the CIA considered the reports on the meeting credible, Levin said.

In February 2002, the Defense Intelligence Agency concluded that "Iraq is unlikely to have provided bin Laden any useful [chemical and biological weapons] knowledge or assistance." A year later, Bush said: "Iraq has also provided al-Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training."

Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.), an intelligence committee member, said it was unfair for Democrats to compare the intelligence assessments in the report with the administration's statements. He said such comparisons go beyond the scope of the chapters released.

But Democrats were unequivocal in asserting that the chapters chronicle an indisputable pattern of deception.

"It is such a blatant misleading of the United States, its people, to prepare them, to position them, to, in fact, make them enthusiastic or feel that it's justified to go to war with Iraq," said Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), the committee's vice chairman. "That kind of public manipulation I don't know has any precedent in American history."

Staff writer Charles Babington contributed to this report.

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